Region’s MLAs agree on issue of air quality versus incineration

Abbotsford’s MLAs are united on at least one major issue, none of them believe incineration should be allowed to damage the Fraser Valley’s sensitive air shed.

Abbotsford’s MLAs are united on at least one major issue, none of them believe incineration should be allowed to damage the Fraser Valley’s sensitive air shed.

However, their views on a proposed plan by Metro Vancouver to burn garbage, begins to differ after that.

Last week, Environment Minister Terry Lake endorsed Metro’s waste plan, which includes burning garbage which cannot be recycled or composted, and turning it into energy, used to supplement the use of fossil fuels.

Opponents of the plan fear the burning process will release pollutants into the air, which will drift up the Valley. They argue the science presented by Metro does not take into account all the possible toxins that could be created.

Abbotsford-West MLA and Minister of Health Michael de Jong said he knows that everyone in Abbotsford, from residents to councillors and MLAs, are motivated by one thing, “the protection of the quality of our air shed.”

He believes Lake’s endorsement does not end the debate on where an incinerator will be constructed.

“What the decision does is set up a process,” he said. “A process that allows Metro to attempt to advance its plan … That’s all it does,” said de Jong.

He said he is hesitant on the idea of incineration in the Lower Mainland, but it depends on what the emissions are.

“If it is as close to zero as possible, then my hesitancy is reduced.”

He added, like the Sumas Energy 2 fight – a proposed natural gas power plant which was defeated by a huge outcry from Valley citizens – the arguments must be based on science.

“It’s important that we approach this responsibly … Garbage is important and it needs to be dealt with. I’m not comfortable throwing our garbage in a landfill for the next 100 years either,” said de Jong.

Abbotsford-Mission MLA Randy Hawes agrees with some of de Jong’s statements.

“I am not a fan of collecting up all our garbage and dumping it into a hole … ”

He also doesn’t see the environment minister’s ruling as a definitive answer.

“I’m not so sure there is a decision,” said Hawes.

He said the conditions and need for consultation contained in the minister’s report indicates the Lower Mainland may not be a suitable home for a waste-to-energy plant.

“There is a place for incineration, but not in this air shed … I think he (Lake) is saying there is a place for it, just not here.”

Hawes suggested the Gold River (Vancouver Island) option may be the best solution, although he does not know if the air currents would bring any pollutants, no matter how small, into the air shed.

Last week, Abbotsford-South MLA John van Dongen said he was against incineration in this region.

Chilliwack’s MLA John Les lambasted the B.C. environment minister’s decision and warned that the people of the Fraser Valley won’t stand for it.

“I think the minister’s approval is regrettable and wrong,” Les said. “Obviously, people in the Fraser Valley will be fully engaged every step of the way,” he said. “The people of the Fraser Valley will be their (Metro Vancouver’s) worst nightmare come true.”

Les called the conditions requiring a consultation process “cold comfort” given Metro Vancouver’s past record of consultation with FVRD officials.

“I don’t put a lot of faith in the consultation (by) Metro Vancouver,” he said. “To them, consultation is holding a meeting, and then doing what they want anyway.”

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner, a former environment minister and currently Attorney-General, was less critical of his fellow cabinet minister’s decision.

“I’ve spoken to (Terry) Lake many times and I’ve always repeated the message that I don’t want to see our air quality negatively impacted in the Fraser Valley,” Penner said.

“At the same time, it’s important to stress (the approval) doesn’t mean an actual project to incinerate garbage has been approved,” he said.

Terry Lake was unavailable for comment.